Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

Money cannot buy health, but I'd settle for a diamond-studded

Dorothy Parker

South North
East-West ♠ A K 8
 9 6 2
 A K 9 2
♣ A Q 2
West East
♠ Q 3
 A Q 8 5 4 3
 6 5
♣ 5 4 3
♠ J 6 5
 K J 7
 J 8 3
♣ K J 8 6
♠ 10 9 7 4 2
 Q 10 7 4
♣ 10 9 7
South West North East
Pass 2 Dbl. 3
Pass Pass Dbl. Pass
4♠ All pass    


A decade ago Marty Fleisher and Eric Rodwell paired up in a first-time partnership to win the Cavendish pairs. Today's deal comes from that event.

Rodwell is never one to hold back when game is in the offing, and on this occasion, when his partner forced him to act at the three-level, he felt he had something in reserve, hence his jump to four spades. Best defense is a club lead — and maybe East should have bid three clubs over the double to help his partner.

Still, West’s choice of the heart ace, to determine which minor to shift to, was a reasonable one. Unluckily for him, the club shift came too late. Rodwell played low, and East took the jack and exited with a second heart. Rodwell ruffed and played off the top spades, ruffed a second heart, then cashed four diamonds, ending in dummy. Now he led a trump, and in the two-card ending East had to play clubs into dummy’s tenace to concede the 10th trick.

As mentioned above, the idea of playing that responder to a weak-two can make lead-directing calls after his RHO has doubled is a sensible one, and dates back remarkably far. (50 years ago.) This idea was first proposed in Bridge World and is called McCabe, after its inventor. The idea is that when second hand doubles a weak-two bid, new suits at the three-level by the next player show tolerance for partner’s suit, but are primarily for the lead of the bid suit.

I'd expect your partner to have short spades and long diamonds, with enough values to drive to game. (With 5-6 shape he would bid two spades, then repeat the suit.) Three no-trump is not an option, but in the context of your initially limited action, you do have decent cards for slam if partner is really strong. So you can now bid four hearts as a cue-bid for diamonds, to see if that gets partner excited.


♠ J 6 5
 K J 7
 J 8 3
♣ K J 8 6
South West North East
1 Pass
1 NT Pass 3♠ Pass

For details of Bobby Wolff’s autobiography, The Lone Wolff, contact If you would like to contact Bobby Wolff, please leave a comment at this blog. Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2014. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Bill CubleyApril 2nd, 2014 at 1:33 pm

I like the quote. He bid the game as aggressively as I bid the slam you commented so well on.

Shantanu RastogiApril 2nd, 2014 at 2:09 pm

Dear Mr Wolff

In BWTA why have you skipped 4 Clubs as cue bid ? Is this because if over 4 hearts partner bids 4 Spades then one can further cue bid 5 Clubs ? 4 Clubs by south cant be showing long Clubs.

best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

jim2April 2nd, 2014 at 2:18 pm

I am not Our Host, but I interpreted the BWTA choice to be based on the chance that 4C might indeed be a club suit. OTOH, South has denied a heart suit.

Greg NowakApril 2nd, 2014 at 2:34 pm

Hi Bobby,
My Enc. of Bridge says 1955 for McCabe. I can’t tell if it was played over a double or not.
I think Max Hardy’s book has 2N for minors.
I think if partners don’t discuss it, it can be a source of CD. E.g.. what is redouble?
I really like it when getting the lead director in is critical.
It also can be after 1 of a major-double.

Peter PengApril 2nd, 2014 at 2:46 pm

Hi Mr. Wolff

Thanks, good suggestion, I will take it to my partner.

2H – x- 3C can be

1. McCabe, as you suggest, lead directing and heart support
2. A long club suit, no hearts, weak hand (Partner, my pre-empt is better than yours).

If you play McCabe, then you need to go to 4C for the second meaning, correct?

Both meanings are alertable?

Thanks again

Bobby WolffApril 2nd, 2014 at 2:55 pm

Hi Bill,

Yes, all the really good players like you and the very top players mentioned in the column are super aggressive, particularly with bidding close games.

Bobby WolffApril 2nd, 2014 at 3:01 pm

Hi Shantanu and Jim2,

Yes, Jim2 is reading my mail and while 4 clubs could be ambiguous in meaning , 4 hearts must be a general cue bid as my 1NT bid has already denied 4+ hearts.

Because of the necessity, especially when much is at stake, as in winning, bidding along with partner should not leave room for misinterpretation, otherwise disaster looms right around the corner.

Iain ClimieApril 2nd, 2014 at 3:11 pm

Hi Bobby,

While I see the logic in treating 3C here as lead directional, is East that sure? If dummy had (say) CQ109x and declarer CAx, was the club lead so good? KQ109 in the suit, of course, and things are quite different.



Bobby WolffApril 2nd, 2014 at 3:24 pm

Hi Greg,

Obviously you have nailed the year McCabe invented his lead convention.

The guts of the convention have to do with, once partner opens a weak two bid and it is doubled for TO, then a suit bid at the three level (or 2 spades over a 2 heart WTB, although to suggest a spade lead I would have at least a good five card suit since the other major is usually in the mind of the TO doubler) is lead directing, but asks partner to go back, if necessary, to three of his WTB suit. (AQJ alone comes to mind as being almost perfect for McCabe to be used since the king of that suit figures to be in the dummy (the TO doubler), assuming the partner of the doubler becomes declarer.

An adjunct of McCabe is that a 2NT response by the partner of the WTBer asks partner to bid 3 clubs and then pass any response made by his partner as a way of getting out at the 3 level in a long suit (perhaps 7 cards+) if, by chance, the partner is dealt such a thing. Remember with a strong balanced defensive hand, once RHO has doubled for TO, a redouble announces to the WTB bidder that likely that person has come in at the wrong time and will be doubled at their eventual contract. That, of course, is very rare, but if it does happen, the WTBer’s side will be ready for it.

Finally a suit bid after 1 of a major by partner then a TO double by RHO should not be used as only a lead director as there are more important uses for bidding suits, mainly because an opening one bid has many varieties whereas a WTB does not and is disciplined, especially compared with an opening 1 of a suit bid.

However, Greg, if you disagree, why don’t you work out the whole convention (what all the bids mean) and we will call it NOWAK?

Bobby WolffApril 2nd, 2014 at 3:31 pm

Hi Peter,

See my above letter to Greg about the 2NT bid which allows partner to get out at the 3 level, instead of having to go to the ten trick level.

Yes, all conventional responses are alertable, but after alerting should not be blurted until asked, since the opponents may be hoping that the alerter’s partner has perhaps forgotten and will do something disastrous for his partnership.

Bobby WolffApril 2nd, 2014 at 3:43 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes the Ax or something similar has no place in McCabe, but usually only a tenace holding such as AQ10 so that the opening lead will take away some options from a good declarer such as an end play without the initial lead of the suit, particularly so if you, as the partner of the WTB with 10xx want to raise partner, but do not want partner to lead the suit, when and if he becomes the opening leader unless he has a solid sequence worth leading.

There are many slips between the cup and the lip and McCabe is only one small step for bridgekind, but when it does appear we can feel good about playing it. And what do we do when partner opens 2 spades and RHO doubles, while we hold s. 9x, h. xxx, d. Jxxx, c. AQJx, I would chance 3 clubs and take a chance that 3 spades will not be bid, particularly if LHO now chimes in with 3 or 4 hearts.

Sure, a chance and not a book example of when to use McCabe, but nevertheless a worthwhile plan and one which I would take, but also have the scars to remember when it did not work. At least one can think that he died with his boots on.

Peter PengApril 2nd, 2014 at 4:59 pm

Hi Mr. Wolff

The 2NT bid works well for the suits below the WTB suit. But in this case, if 2S is lead directing and if spade is responder’s “my pre-empt is better than yours” suit, then 2NT will be followed by 3C by opener and 3S by responder. In that case, it cost one level of bidding, right?


Peter PengApril 2nd, 2014 at 5:37 pm

Hi Mr. Wolff

the 2NT bid by responder implies singleton or void in WTB suit, since responder would presumably pass with a doubleton. So in case doubler’s partner declare, by bidding over 2NT, this is also lead directing, correct?

Bobby WolffApril 2nd, 2014 at 7:11 pm

Hi Peter,

In some cases, and especially after a WTB of 2 hearts, followed by a double by RHO, judgment is required before 2 spades should be bid. Yes, it probably is lead directing but sometimes when holding just a suit (QJ10xxxx), I will still venture it, in order to prevent a penalty pass of 2 hearts by LHO.

However in 60+ years I have never had that happen and my Chinese fortune cookies which always accompany my other Chinese food, predicts 60+ more years without that occurring, leading me to believe that I am more likely to live to 140 than for me to pick up that hand.

Anyone who insists to you that bridge teaching is all discipline and no judgment is just trying to sell the Brooklyn bridge.

David WarheitApril 2nd, 2014 at 7:24 pm

There is a small mistake in your description of declarer’s play. You say that he “cashed 4 diamonds, ending in dummy”. No, it should be “ending in his hand”. There is a possibility that someone has the J fourth of D. If so, it can only be E, so S must first cash the A & K of D, of course not unblocking the 10 unless the J has appeared. It matters not where he ends up after running D; he then simply leads a S (trusting that E has the J), and watches E squirm.

Bobby WolffApril 2nd, 2014 at 10:16 pm

Hi David,

Yes, you are right-on because if there are 4 diamonds in one hand it is much more likely that East is the one who holds them unless West held 2-6-4-1 distribution, not nearly as likely as all the other possibilities.

Thanks for your correction.